Congressman Questions FEMA Over Denial of Fire Funds

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Some congressional members from Texas are refusing to accept the Federal Emergency Management Agency's decision to deny more assistance with the state's wildfires.

FEMA says Texas doesn't need any more federal funding based on information from the state.

FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen says the agency already approved 25 fire management assistance grants that provide targeted funding to help with firefighting efforts -- including 19 in April.

But U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway said Wednesday that money helped with only a small percentage of the 9,000 wildfires scorching at least 2.2 million acres since November. He said he and his colleagues want to know what information FEMA needs so the funding denial could be reversed.

Texas has 30 days to appeal. Gov. Rick Perry says the state is considering its options.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has defended its decision refusing to provide more assistance to Texas after devastating wildfires.

Gov. Rick Perry late Tuesday criticized the White House for rejecting his April 16 request for a federal major disaster declaration and additional help.

FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen on Wednesday said federal assistance already has been provided to Texas through grants for response activities. She says, based on information provided by the state, there was not a need for additional support at this time.

Perry's request came before deadly tornadoes swept across Alabama.

The governor says Texas wildfires since November have blackened at least 2.2 million acres. Two firefighters died in separate incidents in April.

More than 200 Texas counties have outdoor burn bans.

Since the wildfire season began in November 2010, Texas has responded to more than 9,000 fires across the state that have destroyed or damaged more than 400 homes.

"I am dismayed that this administration has denied Texans the much needed assistance they deserve. It is not only the obligation of the federal government, but its responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency," Gov. Perry said. "Our state has become a model for the nation in disaster preparedness and response, but Texas is reaching its capacity to respond to these emergencies. We will immediately look at all of our options, including appealing the denial, so Texans can receive the resources and support they need as wildfires continue to threaten life and property across our state."

The State of Texas has continued to provide assistance to communities threatened by the raging fires this season, including deploying hundreds of Texas Forest Service personnel and air assets to assist with multiple fires; Texas Military Forces personnel and Blackhawk helicopters to assist fire suppression efforts; Texas Department of Transportation bulldozers and other resources as needed in the affected areas; and deploying Texas Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol and multiple communications trailers to the Texas Forest Service Incident Command Post in Merkel, Texas and other areas across the state.

Additionally, the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) is currently activated. TIFMAS is a network of Texas fire departments willing to provide emergency resources to neighboring communities during the threat of disasters.

A Major Disaster Declaration would make the state eligible for response and recovery assistance from the federal government.

Texas' original request included:

• Direct Federal Assistance including aviation assets and wildland, structural and wildland/urban interface firefighting resources to state and local agencies in support of firefighting operations, and

• Emergency Protective Measures – measures taken before, during and after a disaster to save lives, protect public health and safety, and protect improved public and private property.

The governor issued an Emergency Disaster Proclamation on Dec. 21, 2010, which was subsequently renewed on Jan. 19, February 17, March 18 and April 15. This proclamation remains in effect as extreme wildfire conditions persist.

The State Operations Center has been partially activated and continues to work closely with the Texas Forest Service, National Weather Service and other state and local entities to monitor this severe wildfire threat.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, today issued the following statement regarding the Administration's denial of Governor Rick Perry's request for a federal disaster declaration for Texas. Sens. Cornyn and Hutchison have written twice in the past month to the Administration urging them to honor the Governor's request.

"When nearly 7,000 individual wildfires burn through more than 2.2. million acres, result in loss of life, and destroy homes, businesses, farms and ranches across the state, it's hard to understand how these conditions don't spell 'disaster' for this Administration. We've yet to enter the hottest months of the year and already wildfires have wreaked havoc in Texas - yet our state has not received sufficient federal disaster aid. I will not stop fighting until Texas receives its due attention from President Obama and his Administration."

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) today released the following statement on the Obama Administration's denial of Texas' request for a disaster declaration for rampant wildfires:

"These wildfires have ravaged 2.2 million acres of Texas land, and it is extremely disappointing the administration has denied critical assistance to our state. We've suffered major agriculture and livestock losses and many Texans have lost their homes. We need to equip communities with all of the tools and resources possible to effectively battle and recover from these fires. I am sure the governor will work with the administration to ensure all the requirements are met for timely delivery of this disaster aid."

U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon) issued the following statement in response to the Obama Administration's rejection of a Texas Wild Fire Declaration: "It is unimaginable to me that the President would deny this application when so many Texas counties have been affected by devastating fires. A few counties in our area have already been individually approved for federal fire assistance, but we're not giving up. We are going to keep fighting to get people the help they need to recover and rebuild."